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YouTube Commenters Don’t Understand Economics: Car Talk

Today, I witnessed a conversation between YouTube commenters which inspired me to shed some light on myopic deduction practices and failures of economics. 



The original commenter posted the following remarks: “I’m a fan of the GT350R. I can’t wait to buy one. I’ll wait until California adds one more dollar per gallon to gas. Hopefully that would bring down the price.” 

This individual commits the common fallacy of focusing on one feature of the picture while neglecting to appreciate the whole thing. 

In an environment of rising fuel prices, the transportation and production costs will scale upward, leaving new production to clear markets at increasingly higher prices or otherwise clear at lower prices with inferior quality. 

If the original poster intends to purchase a used GT350R, as opposed to the implied new purchase, then he needn't exclusively wait for higher fuel prices to mitigate demand, as the average (non-collectible) vehicle will invariably depreciate (in real terms) over time, wear and mileage. 

Ultimately, the tightening of credit and the likely scenario of large-scale debt monetization (and import tariffs) combine to yield that probable scenario of rising fuel and materials costs which are ultimately poised to squeeze most Americans out of the auto market altogether. 

In this case, the nominal benefit of any discount will surely be offset by the detriment of long-run price increases, another real factor in the long-run cost of ownership: beyond purchase price and costs of financing, this includes sales tax, registration and title fees, car insurance premiums, gas expenses, and car maintenance and repair costs. 

In the aforementioned economic environment, the parsimonious buyer (or penny-pinching bargain hunter) will have little use for a gas-guzzling sports car when premium fuel has suddenly surged beyond $10 per gallon while wages have remained stagnant. 

When considering the effects of any particular input, one must also consider the events and phenomena which yielded that change. 

Of course, one must also consider the fact that markets behave differently across the wide ranges of the commercial spectrum, especially in the nooks and crannies of niche or boutique markets: in the case of a bonafide (and moderately expensive) sports car, the average buyer is typically searching for a weekend cruiser, a track car or a fun driver during the summer months, most assuredly not a daily driver for sitting in heavy traffic or traveling thousands of miles per month. 

In this specific case, gas prices will have a disproportionately lower impact on consumer sentiment, all else equal. 

What's more, in the case of diminished enthusiasm or falling real demand for sports cars, such assets can always mobilize to clear in markets with more robust demand, especially in cases of artificial price controls. 

Should a $1.00 price hike bear a pronounced influence over consumer sentiment in the limited-production sports car segment across California, inventory of such vehicles could ship elsewhere, or production could respond in kind with lower output, to adjust to the new equilibrium. 

In reality, average gas prices are already roughly 20 percent higher in California than in Michigan, yet new and used Ford Mustang GT350Rs remain nearly identical in sales prices, otherwise selling at favorable discounts in Michigan, oddly enough the only state with higher average insurance premiums. 

Whether we're comparing California's auto market to that of Michigan, the state with the highest average long-run cost of car ownership, or we're using the states of Oregon and New Hampshire, two of the most inexpensive places to own a vehicle in the United States, the story is nearly identical. 

Just as with the market for antiques, posh artwork or coveted collectibles, minor economic shifts or remote mutilations of the average tend to bear little to no measurable impact on the price movements of limited-production or higher-end sports cars. 

Of course, these markets are not immune to the cataclysmic shifts which loom upon the horizon. 

As stated, however, in this scenario, the entire market will undergo a dramatic transformation which witnesses the bursting of the artificial auto market bubble which is presently valued at nearly $1.2 trillion. 

In this particular case, the crashing auto market will match with still only a minority of wealth holders who positioned themselves accordingly, likely leaving that original poster no better off in the pursuit of his dream car.

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